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LIRR aims to prevent snowstorms from stopping service

More than 100 LIRR passengers are stuck for

More than 100 LIRR passengers are stuck for three hours without heat at about 5 a.m. Sunday just east of the Wyandanch train station. (Dec. 20, 2009) Credit: News12

Five weeks after a major snowstorm caused a Long Island Rail Road train to be stranded for more than three hours, LIRR President Helena Williams Monday outlined initiatives to prevent similar incidents.

At a meeting of the MTA's Long Island Committee, Williams called some aspects of the LIRR's response to the Dec. 20 breakdown of a Ronkonkoma-bound train "unacceptable."

The large drifts of snow during the storm caused the diesel train to break down in Wyandanch - stranding the 150 riders for hours, largely in the dark and without functioning toilets.

After reviewing the LIRR's response to the incident, Williams said the police should have been called immediately and sent to the breakdown site. She said it took about an hour before police were called, and they did not arrive until an hour and 23 minutes after the train became disabled.

Williams said she also has worked with MTA Police to fine-tune evacuation plans during breakdowns. However, Williams repeated that evacuating the disabled Dec. 20 train was not feasible.

In the future, she said, the LIRR will issue more cell phones to employees during snowstorms for better communication with them and with customers. Several passengers aboard the disabled train complained of receiving only sparse updates from the train crew.

Williams said officials also are considering ways to prevent freezing of couplers, including wrapping them in canvas or burlap. During the storm last month, crews had to thaw out frozen couplers between two train cars before towing the train back to Farmingdale.

LIRR Commuter Council chairwoman Maureen Michaels, who was highly critical of how the LIRR handled the storm, commended the agency for adopting the new measures.

"We're glad that they took steps to review what they were doing and that they've made some decisions about how they will do better," she said.

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